A French schoolteacher was kidnaped by gunmen in Muslim West Beirut on Wednesday, officials at the French Embassy and Beirut security sources said. No person or group immediately claimed responsibility for the abduction.
Meanwhile, Paris sent top officials to Tehran in an effort to improve relations with Iran, which has supported Shia Muslim extremists in Lebanon. Eight Frenchmen were earlier abducted by Lebanese Shia Muslims who espouse Iranian-style Islamic fundamentalism.
Michel Brian, 38, who taught at the College Protestant Francais in West Beirut for six years, was the third Westerner to disappear in that section of the capital in less than two weeks.
French Embassy spokesman Francois Abi Saab would not confirm Brian had been kidnaped, saying only, “The embassy is making all the necessary contacts to investigate his fate.”
Seized at Cafe
But other embassy officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Brian was seized by gunmen near the Modca cafe on Hamra Street, West Beirut’s main thoroughfare, as he walked to school.
Abi Saab said the school reported Brian’s disappearance to the embassy after he failed to show up for classes Wednesday.
The French government sent the secretary general of the French External Relations Ministry, Andre Ross, and Marc Bonnefous, director of the ministry’s North Africa-Middle East department, to Tehran for talks with Iranian officials.
Officials in Paris said the mission’s main task is to “examine the state of relations between France and Iran and to seek the possibility of solving the problems facing them.”
Ties to Iran Seen
Iran has criticized France for giving sanctuary to opponents of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and for supplying Iraq with weapons to fight its 5 1/2-year-old war with Iran.
The Khomeini government is the main backer of Shia Muslim extremists in Lebanon, including Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War), the group that claims to have held French diplomats Marcel Carton and Marcel Fontaine and journalist Jean-Paul Kauffman for more than a year.
The group claimed last month it killed another French hostage, Arabist researcher Michel Seurat, after France expelled two pro-Iranian Iraqi dissidents to Baghdad. The group released pictures reputed to show the body of Seurat, but the Frenchman’s remains were never found.
Islamic Jihad has demanded that France halt military sales to Iraq, change its policy toward Iran and free five men convicted in a 1980 assassination attempt against former Iranian Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar.
TV Crew Kidnaped
Another elusive group, the previously unknown Revolutionary Justice Organization, claimed it kidnaped a four-man French television crew March 8.
It said the abduction of newsmen from the Antenne-2 station was a warning to France to stop “interfering in Lebanon’s internal affairs,” including “military intervention.”
It made no specific demands but accused Paris of hostility toward Muslims, indicating it also is a Shia extremist faction.
Islamic Jihad also has kidnaped six Americans who have been missing for up to two years.
Last October, Islamic Jihad claimed it killed an American hostage, diplomat William Buckley, but again no body was produced.